There’s only 24h in a day!

Many of us will recognise that time disappears like snow in summer when you are doing a PhD. You make endless lists, have huge piles of very interesting articles and very good intentions … usually!

What tends to happen is you start well, and then other distractions take away your focus. Sound familiar???

You sit at your workspace diligently reading and everything’s ok, because you have a plan and it’s written in your special PhD writing pad.  You begin reading and then, a bird flies past your window which has suddenly become sooooo interesting, even though you’ve never really taken an interest in birds previously! Your doorbell rings and there’s a real human being with a parcel, but you can’t touch it for 3 days, so you have to have a quick game of kick the parcel through the door. My favourite distraction is I’ll just make a cup of tea!  Before you know it, 30 minutes have passed, and you have indeed made a beautiful cup of tea, but you’ve also read the ingredients on the biscuit packet and realised how many you’ve eaten …. or is that just me?

Since starting the PhD, my office has been redecorated in a rainbow of colour-coded post it notes, which I initially splattered across the walls as reminders. What I have very quickly realised is that they are actually a huge distraction: a little like the sun in your eyes when you are driving.

The point is time is precious and disappearing at a rate of knots into the deep PhD ocean. As a part time PhD student alongside a full-time course leader role, I have had to have a little word with myself and get organised, as there are only 24 hours in a day, despite what we try to cram in.

So, big question coming up: how do you strike a balance between work, PhD, socialising (although that’s all a bit odd at present), oh … and those necessary things like eating and sleeping? I really wanted a nice crisp timetable that ‘told’ me when I had allocated time, just like my teaching timetable. But, as I quickly realised, whatever you plan gets nudged, moved and sometimes trampled on with size 10 boots.

The turning point for me, for the time being, is my ability to control my environment. If I have PhD time, I have stopped everything that goes bing, ping or rings, or that reminds me about other things that I must do. You do not realise how much time you spend ‘just checking’ the emails that have been sent through.

I set a stopwatch for 25 minutes and plan to read or write something. I usually have a weekly list of PhD tasks, and as long as something gets crossed off in each of the 25 minutes, then I have learnt to be happy with my efforts. At the end of the week, I can see how much I have actually achieved, which is a real boost.

It has been an interesting few weeks, but I have learnt not to dismiss techniques before trying them.

Consider the Pomodoro technique. It might help you get focused and eat a lot less biscuits!!

Meredith Rose

This post was first published on the Thriving Part-Time blog here.


One comment

  1. Glad to hear you are making time for birds and biscuits. I’ve always found that assigning a particular day to elements of a task -rather than the whole task – means that you can usually cross something off your list at the end of the day. Happy PhD-ing Meredith.


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